Column: Productive session is one for history books
My first session was quite a whirlwind. I learned a lot about the process of government and met some great people. Despite our disagreements about policy, everyone who works at the Capitol — Republicans, Democrats, House members, senators, partisan and nonpartisan staff — is here because they want to do what's right for the people of Minnesota.
My first session in the Senate was also one of the most historic. Last winter, our new majority got together and decided to focus on a handful of top priorities that Minnesotans were pleading for: emergency health care aid, tax relief, roads and bridges, and education funding. Now that we've passed a budget, I'm proud to say we accomplished every single one of those goals. Any one of these individual achievements would have made for a successful session in any other year, but after successful bipartisan negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton, we knocked them all out in only five months.
After addressing the health care premium emergency that was forcing families to choose between their health care and paying their mortgage, utilities or groceries, our top priority was meaningful, significant tax relief.
We delivered. The Republican-led Legislature was able to negotiate a deal that led to the biggest tax relief bill in nearly two decades — a $650 million package that will spur our economy and put more money in the pockets of Minnesotans everywhere. Farmers, recent college grads, Main Street business owners, seniors and more will save money on their taxes. Republicans are putting you and your family first; after years of tax increases, you'll finally get some tax relief.
Your family also will get relief during your commutes. Previous debates about transportation stalled because Democrats wanted gas tax or tab fee increases, while Republicans found ways to use existing funding. This year we bridged that gap with the largest investment in roads and bridges since 2008. This biennium, $600 million will be invested to rebuild roads and bridges all over Minnesota. And most important, we honored our promise to do it without raising your taxes.
Republicans and Democrats alike believe in strong public education. Teachers unions and education advocates made it a priority to increase the general education formula by 2 percent each year. I'm proud we were able to meet that request, so school districts across Minnesota will receive significant funding increases to continue providing our children the best education possible.
Our education bill also invests in early childhood education by providing $50 million for the new School Readiness Plus program, which gives school districts flexibility to invest in early learning approaches that work for their specific students.
It was also a priority to strengthen and secure our ag economies. Minnesota will soon feature a beginning farmers tax credit to help create the next generation of farmers get started, which I am proud to have authored. The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute will receive a significant boost in funding, and we're providing grants for infrastructure to improve access to fresh food for underserved communities.
Two bills I authored to help greater Minnesotans will also become law this year: we increased the maximum weight milk haulers are allowed to carry, and we funded a program to help farmers purchase rollover protection for their tractors.
Veterans will have an easier time transitioning to a new career in the trades thanks to funding for Helmets to Hardhats, a bill I carried in the Senate.
Last fall, Minnesotans of all genders, races, locations and economic backgrounds decided they were tired of the status quo; they just wanted leadership that would deliver results. After five months of hard work, I'm proud to have been a part of such a historically productive session. All Minnesotans should be very proud of the results.
On a personal note, thank you for trusting me to be your voice in the Senate. Though it's only been one session, the experience has been amazing and very gratifying. I understand that there will be people who do not always agree with my decisions, which is why I welcome your feedback and opinions. Regardless of your perspective, I promise that every day I will strive to represent Dodge, Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties to the best of my ability. It's a privilege I will cherish my entire life.
Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, can be reached at email@example.com or 651-296-4264.